Category Archives: forgiveness

A Coptic light in the Mideast darkness

The Middle East has experienced much darkness during the last years. But a light is drawing attention.

Christians make up between 15-20 percent of the population of Egypt; most are members of the ancient Coptic church. The nation’s leaders talk about all citizens being part of one family, but reality has been otherwise. Muslim demands are often appeased at the Christian minority’s expense.

How should the church respond? Surely they should call for fairness and justice. However, efforts by young Coptic Christians to demonstrate for equal rights after the 2011 Arab Spring were literally crushed under military tanks. Now a different response from the church is having dramatic impact.

On Palm Sunday ISIS suicide bombers attacked two Egyptian churches, killing 44 persons and injuring over 100. At St. Mark’s Cathedral in Alexandria, the bomber was prevented from entering the sanctuary by a guard, Naseem Faheem. Coptic funeral after ISIS suicide bombing in April 2017So when the bomber detonated, Faheem was the first to die in the blast. A few days later Amr Adeeb, perhaps the most prominent talk show host in Egypt, aired an interview of the widow saying “I’m not angry at the one who did this. I’m telling him, ‘May God forgive you, and we also forgive you. Believe me, we forgive you.’” Adeeb sat in stunned silence, searching for a response. Finally he said, “Egyptian Christians are made of Steel! … How great is this forgiveness you have! If it were my father, I could never say this…” Millions marveled with him across the airwaves of Egypt.

Such a word of forgiveness differs radically from the prevailing Middle Eastern culture based on honor and shame, demanding revenge.

Christian forgiveness began to rivet Egypt in 2015 after ISIS executed 21 Egyptian Christians in Libya and the victim’s families publicly forgave the terrorists. This grace is winning the hearts of the nation. Ramez Atallah, president of the Bible Society of Egypt, told a CT reporter that many Egyptians are seeing Christian forgiveness to be exactly what their country needs to “keep Egypt from becoming like Lebanon during its civil war.” Forgiveness, not justice, is the only possible path to peace in Egypt. An insistence on justice can never bring about reconciliation since each side tallies justice differently than the other. What one thinks would even the score, the other would see as a new injustice to be avenged.

Jesus is still the light of the world! And the darker the world, the more brightly we see the light of his way of love and grace even to one’s enemy.

Turn wounds into mere finger pricks

In our hurt and anger after someone wounds us, showing forgiveness is the last thing we want to do. Give them love before they deserve it? No! Chose to let go of any payback? No!love and forgive even when wounded Our natural reaction is anger and retaliation, even if the one hurting us is a close friend or family member.

Yet most of us admire those who follow Jesus in loving and forgiving and doing good to those who hurt and offend us (Matt. 5:43-45, Luke 6:27-28). We are drawn toward these persons as we see lives filled with a sense of peace rather than bitterness and hatred. Further, we see their inner calm and love making them more productive as they work at nudging the wrongdoer to turn from their behavior.

For those of you who want to be able to forgive, I have a tip: do it as the Bible prescribes: forgive out of the knowledge that God in Christ has forgiven you (Eph. 4:32-5:2, Col. 3:13). Sometimes we can’t forgive others until we are forgiven. Or love until we are first loved (1 John 4:19).

Dallas Willard in his book The Divine Conspiracy (p. 323-324) has an analogy that helps us see this. What’s it like when someone steals a hundred dollars from us when we only have two hundred dollars to our name? In contrast, what’s it like if someone picks our pocket of a hundred dollars and we have a billion in the bank?! The same crime feels like a knife in the heart in one situation and like a prick in the finger in the other.

Now imagine two Christians, both feeling offended by unfair criticism. As we watch them, it is clear that one is able to sort through what is said and admit to what is true and patiently explain what may be unfair; the critical remarks are little more than a prick in the finger. In contrast, that same criticism leads the other person to sink into depression or to respond with anger and blame-shifting. The words of disapproval feel to them like a knife in the heart.

Why? Willard suggests that the one person may know how rich they are in God’s love through Christ, whereas the other may not have yet had that truth sink deep within them.

When we begin to see and feel how much we are loved in Christ in spite of our flaws and how fully he can fill us, we develop the same inner resilience and healthy confidence that a child enjoys when growing up in a family that gives unconditional love. When we are forgiven by God—and when the truth about the riches of love and grace that is ours in Christ Jesus begins to permeate us deeply—then unfair criticism or some other hurt begins to feel less like a knife to the heart.

One caution: don’t wait to forgive an offense until it feels easy to do so (i.e., until it feels like we’re only forgiving a mere irritation or finger prick). Yes, our ability to forgive depends on our experience of being forgiven. But the opposite is also true: our experience of feeling God’s love and forgiveness depends on us showing whatever love and forgiveness we can. Until we forgive another, we will have a hard time believing that God is forgiving us. Why? It’s because we instinctively assume others do what we would do if we were in their position. Consequently we do not fully believe that God forgives us until we forgive another. Somehow us choosing to forgive someone else sends God’s forgiveness deep into our heart. In fact, Jesus implies that us-forgiving-others happens before God-forgiving-us: “If you refuse to forgive others, your Father will not forgive your sins” (Matthew 6:15). When we don’t forgive others, it reveals that we probably haven’t really believed God’s forgiveness of us (Matthew 18:21-35).

We can rebuke as well as forgive

When we forgive we set the one who has hurt us free. And find that we are free too! We are released from the grip of the wrong that happened to us.

But forgiveness is more than letting go of retribution. More than choosing to give love to this one who wounded us. It’s always those things. But there is further element that Jesus wants to be present in our forgiveness. “If a brother or sister sins against you, rebuke them; and if they repent, forgive them” (Luke 17:3). Jesus envisions us working to bring change in the one who hurt us.

Suppose I am the one who sins against you — not a mere annoyance or irritation but a sin that slices your being. Jesus is saying to you, “If Harold does that, help him to change.”

If you don’t call me to repentance but merely pronounce that you forgive me, there will be peace between us, of an external sort at least. But you will find your expectations of our relationship lowered — “Harold is the kind of guy who treats me unfairly, who violates me as a person.” Once you get used to that idea, your emotions will calm down. But our relationship will no longer be a vehicle for the Spirit’s moving; you are not going to get close enough to me for mutual giving and receiving to happen.

So help me change; help me intend to not hurt you again and to love and care for you.

That is God’s way of forgiving us. God works that we repent (Acts 3:19). As we confess our sins, God forgives and cleanses us (1 John 1:9). We can’t move into the territory of friendship until we repent.

Sometimes the one sinning cannot or will not change. Then our forgiveness is limited to loving them and releasing them from retribution. But let’s not assume too quickly that there will be no repentance or confession in the other; let’s not short circuit change in the other. Instead of settling for a cessation of hostility and retaliation, with God’s help let’s move toward a deep restoration of relationship!